Saturday, September 15, 2007

Squirrel On The Half Smell

WARNING: DECAY AND DEATH IN THIS POST.

This is a story about the pretty beetles below. It does contain pics of a really, really dead squirrel, so be warned, delicate types.



A handfull of carrion beetles and a youngster.



Even if you make your living inside rotting carcasses, it's important to remember your daily grooming. This beetle carefully cleaned it's parts before returning to work.




This is how the squirrel first appeared. Notice the mound of dirt over and around it. That is the work of the carrion beetle.



This mound of fresh sand was being pushed up by the beetle below as I watched. The belly of the squirrel is just visible in the right upper corner of the picture.



When I took my dive knife and gently scraped off the top of the mound, the beetle tunnel appeared. See the dark hole?



The tale ...
On the way out to feed the chickens, I looked down and found this dead squirrel, half buried in the sand. A host of flies were using him as a landing strip and the ubiquitous fire ants were patrolling around his perimeter.


My first thought was, " I hope you choked on one of my scuppernong grapes you fuzzy-tailed tree rat!" Sorry squirrel lovers, but I have a huge population of them and they pretty much prevent me from growing corn and this year, they wiped out my grape crop.

Yes, I know they are an edible game animal.


No, I don't eat them. Ugh. As a boy, I visited with the fanatical squirrel hunting family across the street and watched as they cracked the skulls between their teeth to eat the brains. That pretty much did it for me.

My second thought was, "Hmmmmm, this has blog potential ... for reasons unseen, yet obvious."

It's actually pretty odd to find a dead squirrel around here. I think they usually die as prey and get carried off or consumed. There is another reason why any small dead animal is easy to miss though ... they get buried quick by the carrion beetle clan.


If you're a carrion beetle, the sweet scent of decay draws you like a magnet. Once a carrion beetle locates a carcass, they begin to excavate beneath it, while piling the excavated dirt over the carcass. In no time the carcass has sunk beneath the surface where competition from other predators is less. Eggs are laid, and the beetle larvae consume the carcass in the safety of their dark, oozey lair.



It's all pretty blechhhh and icky, but still amazing in a putrescent sort of way. Thingfish23 can probably relate. I got a little forensicy myself and had to mess with the burial in process ...

I lifted the squirrel out of the dirt with my knife and set the body aside. Then I carefully spaded the ground where the squirrel had lain and sifted it through a wire screen. After the sand had fallen through the wire mesh, a handfull of brightly colored carrion beetles were left behind.

They posed for a few pics and then I laid the squirrel atop the mound of fluffy sifted sand. I released the beetles nearby and they immediately burrowed beneath the carcass. My plan was to come back in a while and photograph the changes in the carcass.





The squirrel atop it's fresh bed of sand. Note that it is completely above the ground. This was about 1:00 pm today.



To insure that only the bugs would mess with the carcass, I laid this cage over it. My dogs hate to miss a good carcass roll and I was afraid they might dive in if I did not put up a barrier of some kind.
I set a piece of plywood atop it to keep the rain off ... just in case the distant rumbling turned into a good downpour.

I'll update later today with pics of any changes that occur due to the burial bugs.
Stay tuned.



UPDATED AT 9:00 PM


THE PICTURE ABOVE SHOWS THE SQUIRREL A LITTLE BEFORE 4:00 PM TODAY. HE'S BEGINNING TO SINK AS THE BEETLES EXCAVATE BELOW AND PILE SAND AROUND HIS PERIMETER.


THE LAST PICTURE TAKEN TODAY AT AROUND 5:00 PM. MOST OF THE SQUIRREL HAS BEEN BURIED AND THE BEETLES WERE STILL HARD AT WORK.



A CARRION BEETLE BRIEFLY EMERGES TO SHOVE SAND OUT OF IT'S TUNNEL.

23 comments:

pissed off patricia said...

Thank goodness Mother Nature thought to provide these little clean up crews. Vultures and the beetles and worms all have their job to do and they do it well. I like to think of it as the ultimate recycling. A dead squirrel today becomes part of a beetle tomorrow and if a bird eats the beetle, the squirrel becomes a part of the bird. It's nicer that way.

When one of my pets die, I bury it and plant a flowering plant or bush on top of the grave. Each time the plant blooms I see the flower as a beautiful recycling of my pet. :)

vicki said...

This post is going to tip Old Horsetail into a paroxysm of excitement! He is so madly smitten with dung beetles (he wants to come back as one) and these guys are close. Personally, I approve of creatures who live on carrion. They are greatly underrated. Vultures? One of my favorite birds...

FC- Ah, about the weather down here? This is more like a rain forest than the rain forest. My blood needs to thin a bit for this to be really tolerable, although the evening showers have been great.

SophieMae said...

I find it oddly reassuring to know I'm not the only one with a compulsion to capture creepy carrionized critters and their consumers.

Cathy S. said...

Ick. But definately educational as I had no idea that such a thing existed. I must live a very sanitized life.

pablo said...

Sometimes large critters (opposums, I think) get trapped in the dam's overflow drain and meet their end there. Then some sort of beetle (hundreds, actually) appear from I don't know where and get busy with the remains.

robin andrea said...

What a great post! I haven't ever seen carrion beetles, and they are interesting and quite hard workers. It would be interesting to know how this squirrel died. I never think of such critters succumbing to old age or "natural causes."

Sharon said...

Blech, but very fascinating. :)

vicki said...

P.S. No offense but the title of this post stinks...oh, too funny- my word verification is peaeuz. :-)

Gin said...

Loved it! Please don't ever quit blogging!

Floridacracker said...

Pop,
I know what you mean. I have two pine trees growing atop the grave of my best dog Ranger. I always give them a pat when I'm back there.

Vicki,
That's what summer has been like. It makes us love winter with a passion few Yanks could understand.

Sophie,
Apparently just one more thing we have in common ;)
Small world.

Cathy S,
Truly ick. Just be glad these aren't scratch and sniff photos. In your defense, this happens so quickly, it's easy to miss. How's the novel review going?

Pablo,
There were some very small roundish greenish black beetles working too and I wonder if they weren't dermestids. I'm not much of a bug nerd.

Robin,
Thanks, I wonder about this squirrel too.

Sharon,
It does get blecchhy here on occasion.

Vicki,
Not very accurate title either ... it was definitely a whole smell, not half.

Gin,
You have me smiling big time!
Thanks.

Now, after I finish this Belgian waffle with good Yankee maple syrup, I'm going out to photo their night's work for one more update.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I wonder what they would do with an elephant? That might take them three or four generations, right?

Floridacracker said...

Hoss,
I think they would call the dung beetles for help.

elpbulls said...

Hey Daddy this is a test comment, I think I created a google account so this should work. I love you!!

thingfish23 said...

Ah - two of my favorite things - beetles and dead squirrels.

As you could imagine, I enjoyed this post immensely. Great photos, too, Fc.

Job well done.

Floridacracker said...

ELP,
You did it! Love you kiddo!

Thingfish,
I was hoping you'd drop in for this one. I'll update Earl the squirrel's progress later this week.

Doug Taron said...

The carrion beetle is in the genus Nicrophorus. The parents stay with the carcass to care for the grubs. A touching story.

If you post a photo of the other beetle you were mentioning, I'll see if I can get an ID.

Leslie said...

What a great post! I just saw some of those beetles cleaning up a rabbit carcass the other day. I don't recall ever having seen them before. They're very bright (color-wise, not intelligent, though they may be bright-smart too, I don't know).

I can't buh-LEEVE you held them in your hand. Ick! Ptooey! Get the sanitizing hand wash, some bleach, and boiling water.

life on the road said...

I am always fascinated with decomposition. This was a lovely post and a great experiment with the beetles.

pissed off patricia said...

You know, it's kind of neat how they bury the dead thing first and then take care of business.

Floridacracker said...

Doug,
Thanks for that offer, I'll see if I can get one to hold still.

Leslie,
I know, but they were remarkably clean and ... not stinky. Glad you liked the post.

LifeOnTheRoad,
Thanks. Recycling rocks!

POP,
Pretty clever for little biobots.

Anonymous said...

Hey, great post! It takes me back
to the '50's and '60's as a young
collector of beetles & lepidoptera.
We called this group of carrion
beetles burying or sexton beetles,
a fitting description. Also, while
searching carrion, we would also
find small round black beetles of
the genus Histeridae. It's possible
you might have found the same.
Thanks for the memories!
Hap in New Hope (MN)

Floridacracker said...

Welcome Hap!
Thanks for the info!

Alan said...

My first thought was, " I hope you choked on one of my scuppernong grapes you fuzzy-tailed tree rat!" Sorry squirrel lovers, but I have a huge population of them and they pretty much prevent me from growing corn and this year, they wiped out my grape crop.

Oh how I can relate! The year before last they wiped out three plantings of corn. This year they got ALL of my pears and half of my grapes.

Do you know they like peanut butter and plaster of Paris bonbons? They love 'em. They can't handle the calcium though so it gives them a fatal tummy ache. I've still got a couple of jars of the old transfat laden peanut butter left to dose them with come first frost.

This was a great post. One of your best I think.

.....Alan.